Ansel Adams: Affirmation of Life

Ansel Adams Banner

Heather James Fine Art presents an intimate examination of photographs by Ansel Adams. Adams may be one of the most important and influential photographers from the United States – not only through his body of work but also for his advocacy of the America’s National Parks and the founding of Group f/64 and magazine Aperture.

“I believe… that art is the affirmation of life.” – Ansel Adams

Available Works

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” – Ansel Adams

This display touches on some of the crucial themes present in Adams’s photographs, situating them within the history of photography, Modernism, and American history. A native of San Francisco, Heather James shares this connection with Adams through our presence and roots in the Bay Area, Northern California, and in Palm Desert. We have been proud to showcase the pioneering spirit of Californian artists alongside giants of art history including Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and more.

Adams’ legacy goes beyond resting on his photographs and continues to reverberate through his influence on photography, his shaping of Modern art, and his activism to protect and expand America’s National Parks. Few artists have shaped our conception of landscape, photography, and America itself as Ansel Adams.

The viewing room takes the time to unpeel the layers and legacy of Adams, extricating his powerful imagery from the reproductions found in posters and postcards across homes the world to see through to the core of the artist himself, the power of his landscapes matching his stature as one of history’s most important artists.

Starting with his co-founding of Group f/64, Adams created a path for photography to be considered as “fine art”, away from mere reproductions. The group emphasized a depth of field to images by using the smallest aperture setting on a camera. Adams took these principles further through his technical knowledge of the camera and the process of turning negatives into prints.

If this was his only contribution to photography, his fame would still be assured. But it was his depiction of the American landscape, the composition and lucidity of each image, that shaped our conception of Modern art. The clarity and shade between areas of light and shadow show that his works are not just meditations on nature but studies in form and contrast.

As Jimmy Carter noted when conferring the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ansel Adams:  “At one with the power of the American landscape, and renowned for the patient skill and timeless beauty of his work, photographer Ansel Adams has been visionary in his efforts to preserve the country’s wild and scenic areas, both on film and on Earth. Drawn to the beauty of nature’s monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution. It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans.”

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.” – Ansel Adams


Ansel Adams’s activism for the National Parks extends beyond his powerful images. Adams was not afraid to campaign for their conservation and expansion noting that the act creating the National Parks system could be altered at any time. However, his monumental views of America’s landscapes stand witness to our need to protect not just the parks but also to halt and reverse the effects of climate change.

Ansel Adams, “The Tetons – Snake River”, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, The National Archives, NAID 519904, Local ID 79-AAG-1
Ansel Adams “Wilderness, CA, September 1996”, The National Archives NAID 7868691, Local ID 412-EPD-HI-RESAE-045
Ansel Adams, View across river valley toward “Mount Moran,” Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, The National Archives, NAID 519908, Local ID 79-AAG-5


It is not a widely known fact that Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe were friends. It is their relationship that sheds a light on the different ways that Modern Art could take shape in the 20th century. Despite the changing flux of their friendship, Adams held O’Keeffe in high regard, noting, “Her genius will always be in flower, no matter what age or events come upon her.”

“When words become unclear. I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate. I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams


Few artists have had the technical expertise as Ansel Adams. Adams continued to master the capabilities of the camera throughout his entire life and published many manuals that spread his knowledge to generations of photographers. He also valued the knowledge to physically print photographs, transferring the negative onto a surface. This combination of expertise of the camera and printing along with his eye for composition allowed Adams to create photographs of intense depth.

“…[A]rt is about the only way to bring about an adequate and exciting contact between the realities of society and implications and potentials of nature…” – Ansel Adams

Additional Resources

Ansel Adams: Capturing the majesty of nature
“Ansel Adams + Richard Misrach: Exploring Legacies” from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
“Ansel Adams Photographer (1958)” from Inter-Pathé
“Ansel Adams exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum” from ABC7 News Bay Area
“Ansel Adams: Technique & Working Methods” from the Getty Museum


Inquire - Art Single

Additional Reading